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Patrons cite religious freedom, First Amendment at Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 1 2012 4:43 p.m. MDT

Customers stand in a long line at the Chick-fil-A in Columbus, Ga., Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012. Chick-fil-A supporters are eating at restaurants in the chicken chain as the company continues to be criticized for an executive\'s comments about marriage and family. 
 (Associated Press) Customers stand in a long line at the Chick-fil-A in Columbus, Ga., Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012. Chick-fil-A supporters are eating at restaurants in the chicken chain as the company continues to be criticized for an executive\'s comments about marriage and family. (Associated Press)

Customers flooded Chick-fil-A restaurants across the U.S. Wednesday to show their support for the fast food restaurant chain after president and COO Dan Cathy sparked controversy by repeating his views on the family during an interview with The Baptist Press.

"We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit," Cathy said. "We are a family-owned business, a family-led business and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that."

Although the words "gay marriage" did not appear in the interview, Cathy's remark that the company is "guilty as charged" when it comes to support for the traditional family, along with a radio interview, upset many and sparked calls for a boycott.

"I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,'" Cathy said in that interview. "I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about."

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino sent a letter saying, "(t)here is no place for discrimination on Boston's Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it." Menino later had to retract that statement. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Chick-fil-A does not represent "Chicago values" and said it should invest elsewhere, and also later backed down.

Chicago alderman Proco Joe Moreno said Chick-fil-A could open in his area if he gets an explicit guarantee from the franchise owner that the owner won't support any groups with a political agenda, and San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee said on Twitter that the closest Chick-fil-A was 40 miles away — and that the company shouldn't try to get any closer.

David Cortman of the Alliance Defending Freedom said threats to deny businesses the right to operate based on the beliefs of their owners are not constitutional.

"The government shouldn't be in the business of threatening or punishing people for their thoughts or ideas — whether they are individuals or businesses themselves," Cortman said. "I think the irony here is that they are claiming this is an issue of freedom and civil rights, but they're actually the ones who would be violating the civil rights of Chick-fil-A not to allow them to open up their business simply because of their views."

In response to attacks against Chick-fil-A, Mike Huckabee dubbed Wednesday "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" and encouraged people to buy food there.

"The goal is simple," Huckabee wrote on the event Facebook page. "Let's affirm a business that operates on Christian principles and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values we espouse by simply showing up and eating at Chick-fil-A on Wednesday, August 1."

Courtney Clem told ABC News she went to Chick-fil-A Wednesday to show her support for the First Amendment.

"We want to support their right to an opinion," Clem said. "I do support that opinion. And the right. Even if it was an opinion I disagreed with, I'd be here today . . . I think it's more about people frankly being offended that people are offended."

"Certainly everyone, including a city mayor, is entitled to their opinion, and people can vote with their pocketbooks by going somewhere else to eat their 'chikin,'" a Washington Times opinion piece said. "But what is happening here, again, is something our Founding Fathers tried to guard us against — government using its power to suppress viewpoints and expressions with which it disagrees . . . All Americans should stand with Chick-fil-A today, Republican, Democrat, conservative and liberal, Christians and non-Christians."

Nearly 600,000 supporters signed up to join with Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, while Twitter users reported long lines at restaurants across the U.S.

"Drive thru line at Apalachee Parkway Chick-fil-A is 40 cars deep. Stretches back Apalachee Parkway 2 blocks," Michael Williams tweeted.

Photo tweets from Virginia, Florida, Kansas, Ohio, Texas, Colorado and North Carolina show lines of cars and people at Chick-fil-A on Wednesday.

"Chick-fil-A Ashland, KY Cars lined up both ways on US 23 to get in. Not sure I'll get in. Sure wasn't expecting this," Alliance Bean tweeted.

"I am in insanely long line in Atlanta. Anti-Big Brother, indifferent on the rest. Classic liberal," Allan Lynch tweeted.

Chick-fil-A critics have also planned protests, with organizers of one rally writing on Facebook that they hope to counter "the bigotry and hate that is being promoted by the Chick-fil-A company."

On Friday, same-sex couples are planning to meet at Chick-fil-A locations for National Same-Sex Kiss Day.

"As a private company, Chick-fil-A has every right to alienate as many customers as they want," said Herndon Graddick, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). "But consumers and communities have every right to speak up when a company's president accuses them of 'inviting God's wrath' by treating their LGBT friends, neighbors and family members with respect."

According to GLAAD, Chick-fil-A's "anti-LGBT stance goes well beyond simply opposing marriage equality."

"They have given millions of dollars to anti-LGBT organizations, including those that have been designated 'hate groups' by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and those that push so-called 'ex-gay' therapy, which has been denounced by the mainstream medical and mental health community."

"Chick-fil-A has an extensive history of discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, including funneling millions to organizations that actively work to deny rights to the LGBT community," the Human Rights Campaign said in a blog post.

"The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender," a Chick-fil-A Facebook post said.

"We will continue this tradition in the over 1,600 restaurants run by independent owner/operators. Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena . . . From the day Truett Cathy started the company, he began applying biblically-based principles to managing his business. For example, we believe that closing on Sundays, operating debt-free and devoting a percentage of our profits back to our communities are what make us a stronger company and Chick-fil-A family. Our mission is simple: to serve great food, provide genuine hospitality and have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A."

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